With his new mix CD, Richie Hawtin (a.k.a. Plastikman) offers a new twist on the typically transcendent mixing skills that have left his live sets and previous mix compilations world-renowned. One of the most respected composers and techno DJs in the world, Hawtin on Decks, EFX, and 909 (Decks: turntables; EFX: effects processors; 909: Roland TR-909 drum machine) layers songs on top of songs until each individual track on the CD morphs into a pleasantly indiscernible blend of minimal techno rhythms and filtered, echoing beats. The result is not only a grand display of his impeccably tight techno mixes and programming skills but, with the aid of some pretty nifty digital-editing software, a seamless thing of beauty.
Unlike the constant, nauseatingly hard and repetitive beats that the word "techno" may bring to mind, Hawtin's style here is quite minimal and synthetic. He includes just enough breakdowns and mellow pulsing during the hourlong mix to keep listeners interested and focused on the sounds but still manages to maintain the techno feel with the consistent presence of a beat.
Most of the true surprises of the disc are put on hold for the second half and appear after a blip he has titled "Intermission," a nervous, breathy vocal sample: "What the hell was that? Maybe something's trying to force itself into our world." The CD then blasts into high-intensity techno, layering Killabite's gem "Killabite (002)" with Ben Sims' "The Loop," Jeff Mills' "Alarms" and Surgeon's "Force and Form." This is the set's crescendo, and from here the mix minimizes and softens into slightly more pillowy, but no less danceable, tracks.
Because of the complexity of the mixes and involved layering of songs, the mix is not an exact representation of what Hawtin's live performances sound like. Much of the intricate mixes on the CD are helped along by high-tech computer software, equipment that's not particularly easy to incorporate into a live mix-set. Hawtin, who's from Windsor, Ontario -- just north of techno's birthplace, Detroit -- does manage, however, to recreate the feeling of the CD in his live sets by assimilating more portable hardware like the Roland TR-909 drum machine and various effects processors.
Despite his relentless flair for mixing and melding, some of Hawtin's record choices are mediocre. An advantage of his whirlwind mixes, though, is the simple truth that they come and go quickly. If the records aren't a perfect match -- and some aren't -- they fade away, or get consumed, after about 45 seconds. And although the "decks" and "EFX" stay in the spotlight for the duration of the disc, the 909 makes barely a cameo. Perhaps it's Hawtin's way of leaving something slightly unexposed to the listener, but why rob eager fans of the joyful burst of the occasional 909 kick-drum? The 909 sound may just have been lost in the complicated and artful layering, but, ultimately, the machine is disappointingly incognito.
On his way out, Hawtin winds down with a meld of Thor's "Aliens Don't Boogie" and Marco Carola's "Question (003)," which would have been a delectable finish. But he throws in the highly experimental Rhythm & Sound's "Never Tell You (Version)" at the end, just to make you wonder what he might have waiting on his decks for the next time around.